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Category Archives: Summer 2004

This is one of my absolute favorite band pieces.  I’ve conducted it 3 times, including once at my wife’s request, and once again at my return to Dartmouth College with the CUWE in 2008.  In fact, hearing this piece as a freshman in the Dartmouth Wind Symphony under Max Culpepper in 1997 (along with Lincolnshire Posy and Holst’s First Suite – what a program!) probably started me down the road to becoming a band director.  So I’m in a little bit of shock that I haven’t written about it yet!  Time to fix that.

Kansas City native Robert Russell Bennett (1894-1981) was Broadway’s pre-eminent arranger and orchestrator for most of his career.  His ease with instruments enlivened the scores of George Gershwin, Richard Rodgers, Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin, and many others.  He was composer in his own right, having studied with the renowned Parisian teacher Nadia Boulanger.  He wrote nearly 200 original pieces for several media, including two dozen works for wind band.  The best known of these are his Suite of Old American Dances and the Symphonic Songs for Band.

Bennett was inspired to write the Suite of Old American Dances in 1948 and 1949 after hearing a very special Goldman Band concert:

When Edwin Franko Goldman arrived at his 70th birthday it was celebrated by a concert sponsored by the League of Composers.  For the concert (January 3, 1948) the engaged the Goldman Band of New York and asked Dr. Goldman to conduct his own band in honor of his own anniversary.  Louise and I went to that concert and I suddenly thought of all the beautiful sounds the American concert band could make that it hadn’t yet made.  That doesn’t mean that the unmade sounds passed in review in my mind at all, but the sounds they made were so new to me after all my years with orchestra, dance bands and tiny “combos,” that my pen was practically jumping out of my pocket begging me to give this great big instrument some more music to play.

Thanks to Edward Higgins’s excellent full score edition of the piece for that quote (and all of the other Bennett quotes to follow).

Bennett came up with a five movement suite that he titled Electric Park, after an actual place in his native Kansas City where, as a youth, he heard all of the day’s popular dances (click here for pictures).  He called the park “a place of magic to us kids.  The tricks with big electric signs, the illuminated fountains, the big band concerts, the scenic railway and the big dance hall.  One could hear in the dance hall all afternoon and evening the pieces the crowd danced to.”  His publisher, presumably with marketing in mind, retitled the piece as Suite of Old American Dances.

The Cincinnati Wind Symphony performs the whole piece, all 5 movements:

Bennett’s source material was all real, living American dance of the day.  Let’s break it down one movement at a time.

The Cakewalk originated in Southern plantations as sort of a game for African-American slaves.  Dancers would do impressive-looking struts and kicks, often while dressed mockingly in the fashion of their white masters, and sometimes while also balancing something on their heads.  Often there would be a prize of a piece of cake, hence the term cakewalk.  Here’s what it looked like:

I love the beach scene at the end there!

Here’s a very genteel version of the Schottische, which is actually a German dance related to the polka:

The “Western One Step” is actually based on a dance called the Texas Tommy, which was probably a brothel dance (“Tommies” being women of the night, if you know what I mean).  Here we can see the dance, but you’ll have to imagine the sound:

The “Wallflower Waltz” is just a 20th century take on the classic Viennese waltz, which you can see here:

In the “Rag”, Bennett pushes the limits of his chosen 2/4 time, creating wild syncopations and 2-against-3 patterns, all in the spirit of ragtime music.  Here’s a simple example of a ragtime dance:

More info:

Robert Russell Bennett on wikipedia.

Robert Russell Bennett on IMDB.

Bennett bio on Naxos.com.

Broadway.com tribute to Bennett on the eve of the 2008 Tony Awards.

Google books preview of “The Broadway Sound”, Bennett’s autobiography and selected essays, edited by George Ferencz.

Suite of Old American Dances on wikia program notes, the Concord Band, and in full, 22-page analysis by David Goza of the University of Arkansas (worth the read!).

Suite of Old American Dances was the senior choice for librarian, piccolo/flute player, and love of my life Lisa Samols ’04.  We played it again that summer in Columbia Summer Winds.  We also played it at our exchange concerts with Dartmouth College in 2008.

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Dmitri Shostokovich (1906-1975) was one of the great composers of the 20th century, and certainly the greatest to emerge from the Soviet Union.  His relationship with the Soviet government, especially Soviet premier Joseph Stalin, defined nearly every aspect of his life.  He was born in St. Petersburg and grew up in the last years of tsarist rule in Russia.  The Bolshevik revolution of 1917 came when Shostakovich was 11, but its influence stayed with him the rest of his life.  His rise to fame came at the hands of an aid to Leon Trotsky, a father of the revolution.  Shortly thereafter, Trotsky’s exile and the death of Vladimir Lenin left  Stalin in charge, and he ruled with an iron fist and no patience for dissent or criticism of any kind.  The arts were to reflect the official reality of Soviet existence, and thus “Formalist” works (that is, any work that displayed hints of modernism or abstract content) were at least frowned upon, if not banned outright.  Shostakovich made something of a game of pushing as far towards this line as possible, sometimes even drifting past it.  He was officially denounced by the regime twice, only to later rehabilitate his reputation through new, more apparently pro-Soviet works.  At times the regime used him as a mouthpiece, and he seemed only too willing to comply.  Yet his works often show signs of weariness or outright contempt for his government.  His controversial memoir, Testimony, seems to confirm the notion that Shostakovich did not wish to support the Soviet regime.  However, the memoir’s emergence 4 years after his death and the murky circumstances of its creation, not to mention its appearance at the height of the Cold War, all call into question its truthfulness.  Still, Shostakovich undeniably made beautiful music, including 15 symphonies, an equal number of string quartets, large quantities of film music, and 2 operas which he held dear for his entire life.

Shostakovich wrote Festive Overture in 1954 on a commission for the Bolshoi Theatre’s celebration of the 37th anniversary of the October Revolution (in 1917).  Shostakovich completed the piece in less than a week.   It opens with an exuberant, rising fanfare which transitions to a spritely, lyrical main theme at a breakneck tempo.  The overture speeds past, with a brief return to the fanfare figure before an energetic coda.

The original orchestral version:

The Hunsberger band version by the University of Michigan Symphony Band and Michael Haithcock.

Here’s a trumpet-only version: 8 trumpeters from Juilliard!

Festive Overture on wikipedia, Kennedy Center program notes, and BSO kids’ music curriculum.

Shostakovich bio on Wikipedia.

The debate about Shostakovich and his allegiances rages on…

Washington, D.C. native and legendary bandmaster John Philip Sousa (1854-1932) wrote a dozen operettas, six full-length operas, and over 100 marches, earning the title “March King”.  He enlisted in the United States Marine Corps at an early age and went on to become the conductor of the President’s Own Marine Band at age 26.  In 1892 he formed “Sousa and his Band”, which toured the United States and the world under his directorship for the next forty years to great acclaim.  Not only was Sousa’s band hugely popular, but it also exposed audiences all over the world to the latest, cutting-edge music, bringing excerpts of Wagner’s Parsifal to New York a decade before the Metropolitan Opera staged it, and introducing ragtime to Europe, helping to spark many a composer’s interest in American music.

Here are some well-researched program notes on Stars & stripes from the Band Music PDF Library.

Stars and Stripes Forever (march) is considered the finest march ever written, and the same time one of the most patriotic ever conceived.  As reported in the Philedelphia Public Ledger (May 15, 1897) “… It is stirring enough to rouse the American eagle from his crag, and set him to shriek exultantly while he hurls his arrows at the aurora borealis.” (referring to the concert the Sousa Band gave the previous day at the Academy of Music). (Research done by Elizabeth Hartman, head of the music department, Free Library of Philadelphia.  [Quote] taken from John Philip Sousa, Descriptive Catalog of his Works (Paul E. Bierley, University of Illinois Press, 1973, page 71)).

The march was not quite so well received though and actually got an over average rating for a new Sousa march.  Yet, its popularity grew as Mr. Sousa used it during the Spanish-American War as a concert closer.  Coupled with his Trooping of the Colors, the march quickly gained a vigorous response from audiences and critics alike.  In fact, audiences rose from their chairs when the march was played.  Mr. Sousa added to the entertainment value of the march by having the piccolo(s) line up in front of the band for the final trio, and then added the trumpets and trombones [to] join them on the final repeat of the strain.

The march was performed on almost all of Mr. Sousa’s concerts and always drew tears to the eyes of the audience.  The author has noted the same emotional response of audiences to the march today.  The march has been named as the national march of the United States.

There are two commentaries of how the march was inspired.  The first came as the result of an interview on Mr. Sousa’s patriotism.  According to Mr. Sousa, the march was written with the inspiration of God.

“I was in Europe and I got a cablegram that my manager was dead.  I was in Italy and I wished to get home as soon as possible.  I rushed to Genoa, then to Paris and to England and sailed for America.  On board the steamer as I walked miles up and down the deck, back and forth, a mental band was playing ‘Stars and Stripes Forever.’ Day after day as i walked it persisted in crashing into my very soul.  I wrote in on Christmas Day, 1896.” (Taken from program notes for the week beginning August 19th, 1923.  Bierley, John Philip Sousa, page 71.)

Researched by Marcus L. Neiman, Medina, Ohio

 

The wikipedia article on Stars & Stripes is bit thin on references, but it does allow you to listen to a vintage recording of Sousa himself conducting the march, from 1909.  The Stars & Stripes page at the Dallas Wind Symphony has other old recordings and Sousa’s original lyrics for the march.

Read more about the Sousa Band and its history at naxosdirect.com. Click the link that says “Read more about this recording.”

Sousa shrine – including biography, complete works, and much more – at the Dallas Wind Symphony website.

John Philip Sousa on Wikipedia

Stars & Stripes is one of many Sousa marches (and other pieces by turn of the 19th-20th century composers) available at the Band Music PDF Library for free.  I encourage any enterprising band directors to take a look.

Check out this legit performance of Stars & Stripes, courtesy of the President’s Own United States Marine Band.  If you don’t like the conductor’s very informative monologue, skip to the performance at around 1:00.

Now, the Muppets’ take on Stars & Stripes:

Finally, an inspiring trombone choir version:

Gordon Jacob (1895-1984) was a 20th century British composer.  Along with Holst and Vaughan Williams, he is known as an early champion of the wind band and a skilled composer in the medium.  His 1928 An Original Suite is considered standard repertoire.  Its very title shows its significance: when it was first published (by Boosey), the publisher added the “Original” piece to the title, presumably to distinguish it from the many popular music arrangements that dominated the wind band repertoire at the time.

The Brooklyn College Conservatory of Music Wind Ensemble performed this whole suite very recently and put it on YouTube, which is very convenient for this site.

1st Movement: March

2nd Movement: Intermezzo

3rd Movement: Finale

Gordon Jacob on Wikipedia – note the middle names!

GordonJacob.org – a website run by the Jacob family promoting Gordon’s life and music.

Windband.org program notes for An Original Suite.

Original Suite page at gordonjacob.org – includes links to information about CD recordings, a brief discussion of the piece, and a CD review.